So, after all that craziness, with the buzzer-beating bank shots and all the second-round underdogs taking 2-1 series leads, when it's all said and done the playoffs have gone "chalk" once again, and we're left with a pair of conference finals where it's #1 vs. #2. Just like last year.
I already shared my thoughts on Doc Rivers and the Clippers. Here are four other scattershot playoff musings, in not particular order.
1. Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale deserve a ton of credit.
Morey took heat in the off-season for coming up empty in his efforts to acquire Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony and having the rug pulled out from under his feet by Mark Cuban with restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. Turns out sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.
Bosh, Anthony and Parsons all wound up suffering serious injuries and/or medical issues. Morey replaced Parsons at small forward with Trevor Ariza, who wound up being an upgrade, especially defensively. The Rockets lost two valuable bench pieces in Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, but the investment they made in Donatas Motiejunas paid off in his second season and they acquired Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni in mid-season deals.
Smith in particular seemed to be a bad fit, with his wonky shooting and coach-killer reputation, but I argued at the time he was a good, low-cost, low-risk signing for Houston for two million. Perhaps he has been humbled somewhat by being discarded for nothing by the Pistons or his connection with AAU teammate Dwight Howard turned things around-- who knows? But so far they've managed to make it work.
As for McHale, he has handled a roster that was in flux all season with the injuries to Howard and Terrence Jones early on and then Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley late with aplomb. He looked out of his depth at times in the playoffs last year at Portland, but the Rockets have been good about stepping on people's necks when they're wounded this season and he gets full marks for having the guts to keep James Harden on the bench in that fourth quarter of Game 6 when they were rolling without him.
The Rockets will probably get smoked by the Warriors in the conference finals, but they've proved to be a team on the upswing, a desirable destination for free agents and a far more resilient bunch than we expected. Morey's mandate to shoot threes and layups and nothing else is working, no matter how much the old guard tries to dismiss it. Like it or not, more teams will copy their style next season and beyond.
2. I'd be very surprised if the Hawks don't make the Finals.
The 2008 Celtics went 66-16 and had the best scoring differential of any team since the 1995-96 Bulls before this season's Warriors, and they needed the full seven games to get past Atlanta and Cleveland in the first two rounds before beating the Pistons in six in the conference finals and the Lakers in six in the Finals.
The Spurs blitzed the Heat in the Finals last year, but Dallas took them to seven in the first round and they beat the Thunder in overtime of Game 6 of the conference finals.
A dominant team storming through the playoffs at something like 16-3 has always been the exception in the NBA, not the rule. The reason the playoffs are compelling is because they're usually competitive, especially after the first round. It's not an insult if a top seed requires six games to advance against a playoff opponent, regardless of who they are.
And yet the Hawks have been dismissed for needing six games to dispatch the lowly Nets and then the Wizards. Yes, at times they've played poorly, but I'd argue their slump had less to do with any inherent weakness on their part and more so with injuries, randomness.
Their struggles are real but overstated. Both Al Horford and Paul Millsap have been dealing with minor injuries throughout the playoffs, but they look to be getting stronger as we go on. It's a flagging performance by the Hawks bench and a slumping Kyle Korver that's been their problem of late.
I'm still convinced that for all intents and purposes Hawks-Wizards was the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago-Cleveland was so unspeakably awful in terms of quality of play, a non-stop barrage of ball-like objects being hurled in the general direction of the backboard after an isolation. It was the NCAA, in NBA uniforms and brought to mind the bad old days of the league in the late 90's, before they outlawed hand-checking and nobody could shoot or pass.
Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah were all too compromised by injury to let the Bulls compete and it's hard to excel on offense when the only perimeter threat is Mike Dunleavy Jr. and the pace is glacial. The Cavs meanwhile outlasted them despite LeBron James shooting like 8 percent in the series just because they have enough guys who can hit wide open jumpers to cobble together 90 points.
That's not going to cut it against the Hawks, who handled the Cavs handily in three of four regular season meetings. They have a disciplined offense that, you know, actually runs plays and an athletic defender to throw at James in DeMarre Carroll. With Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving compromised, it sure seems as though Atlanta has the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth best players in this series.
3. The Warriors won the NBA Finals on May 2.
That's when the Spurs lost Game 7 at Los Angeles. It would've been a long shot for the Spurs to upset them in the conference finals anyway -- especially after two grueling rounds of the playoffs -- but in Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard they have two equalizers that flummox the Warriors in ways almost no one else can. It would've been a thrilling, fantastic series to watch, but it wasn't to be. With the Spurs out of the picture, there's just no one left in the Warriors' class. My guess is they'll go 8-3 the rest of the way and win their first 'chip since 1975, but 8-0 wouldn't shock me either.
4. Losing in the first round was the best thing that could've happened to the Spurs.
If you're gonna lose, lose early. That's more rest for Duncan and Manu Ginobili. More time for Leonard to add to his game since he'll undoubtedly be "The Man," next year. More time for an exacting, detail-conscious front office to throw themselves even more into the off-season, with more emphasis and attention (48 Minutes of Hell has a good write-up here of their recent activities) than usual for draft prospects and free agents.
If recent history tells us anything, giving the Spurs time to rest and scheme and plan is not the wisest thing for the rest of the league to do. The last time it happened they wound up with Kawhi Freakin' Leonard.
Oh sure, they probably won't pull off anything so grandiose this time around. It's not like they have another valuable trade chip a la George Hill, right?